Warning over four-hour road closure after anti-fracking protest

Fracking protesters hold up a lorry on Preston New Road
Fracking protesters hold up a lorry on Preston New Road
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Police have warned anti-fracking protesters they face arrest if there is a repeat of yesterday’s actions which saw one of Fylde’s busiest roads partially closed for four hours.

Yesterday police were forced to close Preston New Road, near the fracking site at Little Plumpton.

It is thought campaigners from outside the area were instrumental in yesterday’s protest.

Protesters attempted to block a lorry delivering supplies to the site where shale gas test drilling is to take place.

Police initially closed both lanes at 10.30am before the road was re-opened four hours later. The eastbound carriageway was closed for the full four hours while the westbound lane was open for some of the time.

Police have warned protesters they will be dealt with “fairly but firmly” if they continue to block the road, which is a major arterial route into Blackpool.

Sgt Andy Hill said: “While we have a duty to facilitate people going about their lawful business we also have a duty to facilitate peaceful protest.

“It is regrettable that the actions of a small number of individuals went beyond this at times which resulted in us having to implement road closures for safety reasons.

“This step was taken as a last resort and we understand the disruption this has caused however we hope that people can recognise this was done in order to ensure the safety of all concerned. Local officers are continuing to engage with all parties to reduce any future disruption.

“We appreciate the continued co-operation from the local community and we would like to thank them for their patience and understanding.”

Local protesters have previously held a slow walking demonstration to disrupt traffic to the site. But out-of-towners are believed to have been responsible for yesterday’s road closure, sparking criticism from pro-shale groups.

Babs Murphy, chief executive of the North and Western Lancashire Chamber of Commerce, called on police to reconsider its approach in light of the disruption.

She said: “Countless local people and businesses will have been inconvenienced.

“Even more seriously, the potential threat to life resulting from delays to ambulances and other emergency services as a result of the extensive delays caused would have been significant.”

A spokesman for Backing Fracking said: “Fracking campaigners have been joined by anarchist activists, many covering their faces with scarves in order to avoid identification, who have held-up deliveries to the shale gas site and are now simply standing in the road.

“It illustrates how quickly local campaigners can lose control of protests to lawless elements.”

Francis Egan, CEO of Cuadrilla, the firm carrying out the test drilling, said his company had been facilitating campaigners’ rights to protest peacefully without blocking the road. He added: “Protesters at our site publicly committed they would not block the main Preston New Road.

“However, they have already reneged on this. This has caused major disruption and delay to local traffic and more importantly could delay emergency services.

“Today’s actions are a blatant disregard for the law and for the many road users caught up in this illegal action. They are also an unnecessary drain on local taxpayer’s policing resource.”

However, Claire Stephenson, from the Preston New Road Action Group, blamed Cuadrilla for the hold-ups.

She said: “People nationwide are incensed that this government overturned local democracy for the benefit of dirty industry.

“People will come and protest however they feel is best for them to delay a company with no social licence from progressing in Lancashire. They should expect continued disruption ongoing.”

John Hobson, of the Defend Lytham group, said: “We fully support the right of local people and other supporters to exercise their rights to legitimate protest against inappropriate development, and it’s our view that fracking in the Fylde falls into that category.”

He said he could not comment specifically on yesterday’s road closure but added: “It is evident that it is not in the public interest for the road to be closed for any length of time.”

Lytham businessman Tony Raynor, managing director of Abbey Telecom, said yesterday’s protests ‘overstepped the mark’.

He added: “Forcing the closure of the A583 for such an extended period, preventing businesses from going about their daily work, will be having an unseen but significant impact on the local economy and can’t be tolerated.

“The police must take proportionate action and prevent disruption on this important supply route.”

His comments followed claims by Lancashire For Shale that disruptions to goods deliveries and employees struggling to get to work because of the road closure could have cost the local economy £85,000 an hour.

Bob Dennett, of Frack Free Lancashire, said people were right to protest in a lawful and peaceful manner.

He said: “I support any protest that is peaceful and lawful, I am 100 per cent behind that and will continue to be. If people come to support the protest from other areas they will certainly not be unwanted.

“I have been across the country to support protests and marches about fracking in other areas and I see nothing wrong with that.”

Mike Hill, a consultant engineer from Lytham who has raised concerns about the lack of regulation within the fracking industry, praised the protesters’ restraint. He added: “Some people might say they were being too respectful, if anything. They have done well to be so restrained, because the operation Cuadrilla are proposing is in danger of being a disaster for the Fylde environment.”